Pro-Russia rebels Friday said they have recovered the black boxes from the wreckage of the Malaysian plane blown by a missile over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, including 100 world-renowned AIDS researchers and activists.
Russian news agency Interfax said that pro-Russia rebels have claimed to have recovered the black box of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and had announced that they are planning to have it moved to Moscow for examination.
The Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country have blamed each other for the alleged shooting down of the plane yesterday.
Pro-Russian rebels have agreed to give international investigators access to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 and allow the recovery of bodies scattered over a vast stretch of farmland.
“Rebel in eastern Ukraine will continue fighting in all areas except for the site of the Malaysian plane crash site,” a rebel commander was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti.
The Boeing 777 – carrying 298 people – was en route from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lampur, when it crashed yesterday in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused “terrorists” of downing the jet, referring to pro-Russian separatists.
“Terrorists have killed almost 300 persons with one shot,” Poroshenko said. “Among them are women, children, citizens of different countries of the world.
However, Russian defense ministry said it had picked up radar unit activity from a Ukrainian-controlled ‘Buk’ missile system on the day the Malaysian airliner crashed.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak today demanded that perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice.
“This is a tragic day in what has already been a tragic year for Malaysia. The flight’s passengers were from many nations but we are all united in grief,” Najib said today.
The plane was on a scheduled flight to Kuala Lumpur and it had not made a distress call. It is still not clear if the jet was shot down purposely or mistakenly.
The flight manifest of the plane indicated that the MH17 had onboard 173 nationals from Netherlands, 44 Malaysians, 28 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 9 from UK, 4 from Germany, 4 from Belgium, 3 from the Philippines, one each from Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
The 15-member Malaysian crew included two ethnic Indians – flight steward Sanjid Singh Sandu and Ms. Rajendran. The nationalities of 18 passengers were still to be verified.
About 100 of those killed in the crash were world- renowned AIDS researchers and activists heading to Australia for a global AIDS conference, reports said.
The World Health Organisation said its spokesman Glenn Thomas was on board the plane heading to Australia to attend the 20th International AIDS conference, which starts Sunday.
Joep Lange, former president of the International AIDS Society and a well-known HIV researcher from the Netherlands, was also among the passengers.
“The government of Malaysia is dispatching a special flight to Kiev, carrying a special Malaysia disaster assistance and rescue team, as well as a medical team,” Prime Minister Najib told reporters.
He said that Ukrainian authorities believed that the plane was shot down by pro-Russia rebels but that Malaysia was unable to verify this at this moment.
“If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice,” he said.
Najib said he had talked to Ukraine President Poroshenko who pledged a thorough investigation into the incident.
In a statement, the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) said the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) had stated that the airspace Flight MH17 was traversing was not subject to restrictions.
The jet disappeared from radar screens in eastern Ukraine at around 1415 GMT, hours after it took off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport for Kuala Lumpur. The aircraft crashed in a conflicted area near Donetsk on the Ukraine-Russia border.
MAS sources said the plane did not enter the Russian airspace. Sources said the plane was “shot down” by reportedly a BUK anti-aircraft system while it was cruising at an altitude of 10,000 meter.
European and American security experts and aviation officials also said that the aircraft was brought down by a surface-to-air missile.
A telephone recording was made available by Ukrainians of a conversation between two alleged separatists talking about the shooting down of the plane.
US President Barack Obama has called Malaysian Prime Minister and his Ukrainian counterpart to discuss the situation of the plane crash.
The White House called for “a full, credible and unimpeded international investigation” into the incident.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for “a full, transparent and international investigation.”
The crash comes four months after the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared with 239 people including five Indians on board after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8. The plane has still not been found.